May 28, 2009 by Gsmith
With thanks to our friends at The Militant
BY BRIAN WILLIAMS
Pakistan’s army assault against Taliban forces in the country’s northwest Swat Valley and surrounding region has resulted in the biggest dislocation of the population since the country was formed in 1947 with the partition of India.
The fighting has displaced nearly 1.5 million people in two weeks. This is in addition to 550,000 internal refugees who had already fled fighting in their home towns from a number of areas in the northwest since August.
Backing the assault, U.S. president Barack Obama made clear that a five-year aid package to Pakistan worth $1.5 billion a year would be conditional on the Pakistani government fighting “terrorism.”
Between 12,000 and 15,000 army troops are involved in the assault in the districts of Swat, Dir, and Buner, launched April 26 against an estimated 4,000 Taliban fighters. According to the army, more than 900 Islamist fighters and 48 soldiers have been killed.
“It’s horror. The Taliban are shelling us, and the army is shelling us. They’ve brought us hell,” Bakht Rana, who fled Swat’s main city of Mingora May 15, told the Wall Street Journal.
The Swat Taliban had signed a peace agreement with the Pakistani government in mid-February in exchange for the implementation of sharia, Islamic law, in Swat and several surrounding districts in the country’s North West Frontier Province. But Taliban forces did not lay down their arms. Instead they used the respite to expand their military operations, including into Buner, about 60 miles from Islamabad, prompting the government’s military assault.
“We’re going to go into Waziristan, all these regions, with army operations,” Pakistani president Asif Zardari told the London Times May 17. “Swat is just the start.”
During the first two weeks of May, 1.45 million people fled the fighting in Pakistan’s northwestern region, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Many unable to pile into trucks or tractors are fleeing on foot, and are being turned away from nearby overcrowded refugee camps.
According to Amnesty International, 700,000 civilians remain stranded amid the fighting in Swat, facing food shortages, electricity cutoffs, and lack of diesel fuel for hospital generators. The group says the Taliban shows no regard for civilians’ safety and the Pakistani army is “pursuing a scorched earth policy.”
In the village of Goga, where most of the 4,000 residents have fled, Ziaul Abrar, a teacher remaining there, told the London Times, “There were only 10-15 Taliban in the village but the whole place has been bombed. We were displaced, our houses destroyed, our crops destroyed and our cattle killed to target just a few militants. We want the elimination of the Taliban but this is no way to do it.”
With the expanded fighting, the Pentagon is increasing the number of U.S. Special Forces operating in Pakistan.
According to the Washington Post, 80 to 100 U.S. Special Operations forces and 35 trainers have been operating inside Pakistan for some time, working with Pakistani special forces and the paramilitary Frontier Corps. Unnamed U.S. officials told the Journal that another 25 to 50 Special Forces are also being dispatched to train Frontier Corps soldiers in Pakistan’s southwest Baluchistan Province.
Washington is planning to create a new Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capabilities Fund, led by Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command. The fund would spend $400 million in the next year and as much as $3 billion over five years. Promoting this perspective, Marine Commandant James Conway told members of Congress that it will be difficult to make progress in Afghanistan if forces in Pakistan “aren’t having parallel success.”
Meeting with President Obama in early May, Zardari had requested that his government be allowed to use Predator drones.
Washington has opposed such an arrangement, fearing that information about Predator attacks could be leaked by Pakistani intelligence services to targets.
More than 25 people were killed in a U.S. drone attack in North Waziristan Province May 16, the 19th such attack in northwest Pakistan along the Afghan border this year.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives May 15 approved the Obama administration’s $96.7 billion supplemental request to fund the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq between now and the end of September. Included in the bill is about $1 billion for Pakistan.